By Claudia Assis, MarketWatch
On Tesla Inc.’s long list of executive exits, the departure of Chief Technology Officer J.B. Straubel is perhaps the most important yet, according to analysts.
Tesla (NAS:TSLA) Chief Executive Elon Musk late Wednesday announced Straubel’s exit from that role, catching investors by surprise for a second time this year. In January, the company said Chief Financial Officer Deepak Ahuja was leaving, also making the announcement on a post-results conference call.
Straubel will transition to an advisory role, and Drew Bagliano, vice president of technology, will take over Straubel’s day-to-day responsibilities.
“On a long list of executive departures, this is the worst one yet,” said Gene Munster of venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. Straubel, who has been at Tesla for 16 years, was largely credited with recruiting Elon Musk in his early days, he said.
Tesla shares fell more than 14% Thursday, and were poised to end at their lowest since July 2 and suffer their worst one-day decline since Nov. 6, 2013, when the stock fell 15%.
“This is a different caliber than many of the previous departures we have seen, and will undoubtedly be felt throughout the company,” Munster said.
Straubel’s departure was perhaps “not totally unexpected” but “is the most significant senior management departure to date at Tesla,” said Joseph Spak at RBC Capital.
The following are the key executive departures from Tesla in recent years:
CFO Deepak Ahuja
Back in January, Tesla waited until the very end of its fourth-quarter earnings call with analysts to drop the news that Ahuja, then serving his second stint at Tesla, was leaving his post.
Ahuja came back to Tesla from retirement in 2017, replacing Jason Wheeler. Ahuja was replaced by Zach Kirkhorn, then vice president of finance.
General counsels Todd Maron and Dane Butswinkas
Maron was with Tesla for more than five years and was considered a Musk “confidant.” His departure was announced in December of 2018.
Veteran trial lawyer Dan Butswinkas replaced Maron, building on the relationship with Tesla and Musk that started with his hiring as outside counsel amid the fallout from Musk’s “going private” tweets in August 2018. Butswinkas’ tenure at Tesla was brief: He was replaced two months later by Jonathan Chang, then Tesla’s VP of legal.
VP of Engineering Doug Field
Tesla’s senior VP of engineering left to lead special projects at Apple Inc. (NAS:AAPL) in August of 2018. It was a return to Apple for Field, who left Tesla as the Model 3 production was ramping up.
VP of Sales and Service Jon McNeill
Head of sales and service Jon McNeill left in February 2018 to join Lyft Inc. (NAS:LYFT) as its chief operating officer.
2018 was a particularly tumultuous year at Tesla. In September, the company revealed that HR chief Gabrielle Toledano was not returning from a leave of absence and that Dave Morton, chief accounting officer, was resigning.
Morton’s tenure was noteworthy for its brevity and his departure for its timing: He resigned only a month after starting work and news of his exit swirled hours before Musk appeared to smoke cannabis during a webcast.
Notable departures in 2017 and 2016 included SolarCity co-founders (and Musk’s cousins) Lyndon and Peter Rive, who left in May and July of 2017, about a year after Tesla bought SolarCity.
The VP of production Greg Reichow and the VP of manufacturing Josh Ensign left in May 2016 just a couple of months after the Model 3 unveiling.
Tesla late Wednesday reported a larger-than-expected quarterly loss and a sales miss, made all the worse because expectations going in were running high as the company had reported record second-quarter sales.
The stock promptly plummeted, dragging July losses to more than 11%. Shares are down 31% this year, contrasting with gains of 20% and 16% for the S&P 500 index (S&P:SPX) and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (DOW:DJIA)